Hannah, age nine, has been home three years. Here are things I’ve done right in the time she’s been my daughter. Several of them were things I never thought about before I became an adoptive parent.
Within a few days of Hannah’s arrival home at age six, I began reading to her every night. Since she didn’t yet speak English (I adopted her from Russia), I read short, quick, and easy board books to her. As her English progressed, we often added weekend reading time, curled up on the sofa together. Our reading times together have created warm bonding moments and happy memories. Additionally, Hannah has a love of books and reads above her grade level.
Before I adopted Hannah, I mistakenly assumed that her past would be just that– her past. I was wrong. Adopting an older child means they bring memories, images, beliefs, and habits from their past into their present. Once I began reading and talking to people about adoption issues, I realized the critical need for me to help Hannah weave together her past and present. She now walks easily and comfortably between her past, present, and future.
3. Issues of grief.
Hannah’s issues of grief and loss relate to leaving Russia, her birth mom, losing her Russian language skills, and more. By reading and talking with others, I’ve learned to help Hannah work through her grief. I provide opportunities for in-depth discussions, talk about other people’s losses, read books to her about grief and loss, and encourage her to write and draw her emotions and thoughts.
Within a few months after Hannah being home, I sought therapy help for Hannah and me. For Hannah, I needed assistance with anger management and an additional outlet for her to talk about her losses and her past. For me, I needed validation of my parenting efforts, as well as parenting tips. While our first therapist did not address our long-term needs, she was very valuable in helping Hannah and me work through our first year together.
5. Therapeutic parenting and RAD.
After Hannah was diagnosed with RAD (reactive attachment disorder), I learned to implement therapeutic parenting approaches to help Hannah heal. She needed not only weekly therapy, but a wrap-around environment of therapeutic interventions. I’ve learned to implement highly-structured, super-consistent, extra-empathetic parenting techniques and have seen miraculous results as Hannah begins to heal.
6. Have fun, be silly.
Hannah and I make up goofy words to songs, dance to rock and roll oldies, walk barefoot through streams, tickle each other, and play jokes on each other. This lightheartedness has helped us bond and attach, create pleasant memories, and enjoy each other’s company. Even during our challenging times due to Hannah’s behavior, we found time to laugh together.
7. Total commitment.
I’m still not sure if total commitment to our children is an act, a belief, an attitude, or a gift we’re given. My total commitment to Hannah– however it came to me– has sustained me through many tough times. It sustained me during activities where Hannah was wild and out of control. During months when Hannah’s rage-filled behavior resulted in me having many bruises and cuts. And during times when friends chose not to support us due to Hannah’s RAD diagnosis. My commitment to Hannah is complete and unconditional. I’m thankful for it. I’m also thankful and grateful that Hannah is in my life.
Susan M. Ward, an older child adoption specialist, provides parent coaching and resources for adoptive families. Susan’s training has focused on adoption issues relating to attachment, grief, and parenting. She’s also the adoptive parent of a child healed from RAD (reactive attachment disorder). Her website is Older Child Adoption Support